Friday, August 5, 2016

Invocation of the Mystery Guest

Hi everyone! Today I wanted to tell you the story of how one of my solo guitar pieces came to be. First of all, about the title. When I first moved here to Charlottesville, VA (from Chicago) I was invited to a women's gathering. She asked me, "Do you want to be the mystery guest?"  This question really intrigued me because it gave a name for how I felt much of my life. Kind of of an outsider but not in a negative way. I mean there is a difference between being an outcast and a "mystery guest."
Little did I know that in accepting this invitation nearly 30 years ago, I would still have these friends in my life.

So now onto the song posted here. It was a cold winter morning and I picked up my guitar and this piece emerged. I never forgot the invitation of being the mystery guest though it was many years ago. I knew right away that the music that came would be perfect for the mystery guest theme. So.. that's the story.

I love how songs come about and how they make a sonic memory album and soundtrack of our lives.

I hope you enjoy!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

A Life Changing Event #BeatsofCochlea2016

I have just returned from one of the biggest journeys and life changing experiences of my life. I was fortunate to have been selected to participate in the Beats of Cochlea Festival in Warsaw, Poland. This is a festival for musicians with cochlear implants. It was absolutely wonderful to meet musicians with such a high musical skill level who also had cochlear implants.  As many know, music can be very challenging for those with cochlear implants. However, technology has come so far in recent years in for musicians and this festival was a demonstration of that.

I loved being part of a global community where I was only 1 of 3 from the U.S. while others came from Turkey, China, Spain, Germany, Austria, Italy, Equator,  Hungary, Ukraine, Poland and Canada. All of the events were translated into four languages. I loved hearing the sounds of the mother tongues from all over the world.  

The festival sponsored 32 musicians where we auditioned to perform in the Gala concert on the final night. One ten musicians were selected and though I was not a finalist, in a way that was nicer for me in order to enjoy the concert with no stress.

Some of my favorite moments were:

During lunch after our auditions, the jury was meeting to choose the Gala participants. As we awaited the verdict we all got programs with our Bio info and pictures and went around to each other to get our autographs. It was a very touching moment for me that we were all stars in each others eyes and we were all supporting and encouraging each other.

That night, the staff members of Cochlear and I got the idea to create a "Flash Mob" experience and start singing a song after dinner. I got the idea to adapt the African freedom song, "Freedom Calypso" and change the words to be about music and being at the festival. It is a call and response song where I would sing one line and the group would answer me. This was a lot of fun to do! We didn't tell the other tables we would do this and the whole restaurant stopped and watched and joined in.

The Gala concert itself was a black tie occasion. It was streamed live over the internet and it was very exciting to think that anyone from around the world could watch. There is a link to the recording of the broadcast at this link.  It was such an exhilarating experience and one that I will always remember.

The next day, I presented at the World Hearing Center in a conference about music and implants. I talked about things I did with a music teacher to help regain music and pitch perception. I enjoyed doing that a lot and that was one of the highlights of my year so far!

Thanks much as always for stopping by. Feel free to get in touch!

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Let the Music Come

I was going through some of my old songs from when I first moved here to Charlottesville back in 1989. Pictured above is a photo shoot from 23 years ago! I love remembering some of the stories that turned into songs. Here how the song, "Let the Music Come" came about.

Way back in '89 I participated in a week long guitar class in NYC with Robert Fripp called, "Guitar Craft".  The class involved using  what is called the New Standard Tuning for guitar.  This was a totally new way to tune the guitar to all 35 or so of us beginning Guitar Craft students.

On Wednesday of that week, Robert came to class and announced, "You are to play in a concert on Friday night. The New York Times will be there. It's up to you what you will play. " Then he walked out.

Chaos ensued after he left! What are we supposed to play? We did not know this new way to tune the guitar and we did not know any songs. For nearly an hour we argued and debated what to do. Finally, I got an idea and suggested we imitate a rain storm. Everyone liked this idea. We practiced first everyone playing light harmonics on their guitar and then it crescendoing into thunder and lightening with percussive playing on our guitars. We were ready for the concert. Or so we thought...

When the hour was up, Robert asked what we planned to play for the concert. One of the students said, "How are we to know what to play if we do not know this new tuning or have any songs?" Robert let the question hang in the air for a few moments and he said, "Sit in the silence and wait for the music to come. " We were dismissed.

I went to my room and sat in the silence and this song, "Let the Music Come" came to me--just as he said.  This is what we played for the concert on Friday night.

I still remember when we performed my song that night at the concert, I forgot some of the words. (I only wrote it two days before) It created a long pause where it turned out to be just perfect...for it was when I said, "I gotta wait.." The song is about waiting for the muse to come.

We did also play the rain storm  but that was a disaster! I still remember Robert turning his head away in what looked to be disgust. We were just learning then and failing and experimenting is all part of it.

I hope you enjoy the song :)

Thursday, June 23, 2016

A good way to make a life

I love the quote above by Kurt Vonnegut and I have found it is so true. Today I was standing in line at Verizon waiting to talk to them about a problem with my cell phone. The man in line in front of me and I struck up a conversation and he asked me, "What line of work do you do? " I said, "I am a musician." He immediately perked up as if I had said the most magical thing then said, "Oh, really!?" Just then his turn in line came up but he pointed to me and said for me to go ahead of him.  It turned out we both got served at once, but I appreciated his offer.

 Being a musician and playing an instrument is a great way to make a life that is full of meaningful connections and times.  I'm often told  by people that they used to play the guitar but _____ (fill in the blank why they do not anymore). I always hear a twinge of regret and sadness about this. I always say, "You can play it again, it's never too late. Your guitar is always there for you like a good friend."

So today I just wanted to say if you are one of those who either played guitar and set it aside--why not pick it back up again? Or if you are someone who always wished to play an instrument --it is never too late.

There are so many ways you can learn nowadays too. You can go to a private teacher or take classes online or buy a book, watch YouTube videos.  There are so many ways you can meet new friends by going to music camps, participating in online forums, going to MeetUp groups, going to a jam. The list goes on and on.

While it may be true that going into the arts is not always an easy way to make a living (financially), it is a great way to make a life.

Friday, June 17, 2016

A Tribute to My Mother, Nancy Patterson

This post is the obituary I wrote for my mother, Nancy Patterson. A short version was published in the Chicago Tribune at at this link. 

Nancy Ann Patterson (nee, Post) passed away peacefully on the morning of May 23, 2016 in her adopted home of Arizona.

Born in Toledo, Ohio, on July 23, 1935, Nancy was the youngest daughter of Viola and Donald Post and sister to Donna (Harris). Raised in Battle Creek, Michigan, Nancy left the comforts of home and moved to Chicago in 1956 with her husband Shane O’Connell and daughter Sheryl. Two years later, daughter Renee was born.

While working as a waitress in the thriving artistic neighborhood of Old Town Chicago, she met lifelong friend and legendary jazz musician Jimmy Smith. Attending his concerts at the Plugged Nickel and other jazz clubs over the years with her daughters was among her happiest memories. Nancy’s love of music was a strong thread throughout her life. At Battle Creek Central High School, she played clarinet in the orchestra and sang in Glee club. In Chicago, she learned to play the guitar in the 1960s at the Old Town School of Folk Music and later took up dancing and performed in a dancing troop in Sun City, Arizona, for many years. Daughter Renee (Blue) inherited her mother’s guitar in 1975 and went on to become a professional musician. Nancy’s legacy lives on through Blue’s gift of music and playing for hospital patients, nursing home residents and people with special needs.

In addition to her love of music, Nancy was known for her artistic creativity. She loved needlepoint and stitchery and excelled as a seamstress. She took great joy in putting her own interpretation on current fashions, and her daughters, wearing the one-of-a-kind garments she made them, always looked stylish and ahead of their time.

Her incredible interior design skills equaled that of any professional decorator. Her many phases of style in home décor were tastefully up to date. In the 1960s, the family’s apartment in Uptown, Chicago, was painted in red, gold and olive green, and the furniture was decidedly mod. A leopard skin chair, black chaise lounge and a new hi-fi console were among some of the favorite items of that era. In the ‘70s, her suburban home in Park Ridge resembled an historical museum after she had fallen in love with antiques. A butler’s call box, a roll up desk with a green banker’s lamp, and an old coffee grinder were a few of the things you’d find in her home. During her last years in Arizona she decorated her home in a western cowboy theme. There you would find rodeo paintings, cowboy boot lamps and horse saddles among her collectibles.

Visitors were often in awe of her ability to create a sense of timelessness and beauty. Sometimes they were even afraid to sit on the furniture for fear of messing up the beauty! Her oldest daughter, Sheryl, inherited Nancy’s visual artistic gift and has worked as a graphic designer her entire adult life.   Nancy’s legacy lives on through Sheryl’s gift of beauty, fashion and style.

Nancy’s creative skills and flair were balanced by her practical abilities. In the late 1960s, she became a computer programmer, which altered the course of her life. For it was in this job that she met her second husband Jeffrey Emrich and relocated the family from city to suburbs in 1970. With their shared love of antiques and history, Jeff and Nancy enjoyed volunteering with the Park Ridge Historical Society. In 1974 their son Scott was born. He went on to become a successful tech entrepreneur and currently owns a business in social media. Jeff passed away in 1997.

Nancy was a gentle and kind person who was known for her accepting attitude towards others. She enjoyed being with people but also loved her solitude. She was a big supporter of Goodwill throughout her life. She regarded shopping at Goodwill as a way to help others, knowing that her money was going toward a good cause. Donations to Goodwill can be made in her name in lieu of flowers.

The family wishes to express their gratitude to Paul LaGorce who was a loving friend and caregiver to Nancy for many years. Also, to the staff at Comfort Home Care in Peoria, AZ, who cared for her in her final days.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Smile though your heart is aching...

Just over a week ago on May 23rd, my Mother passed away. As she had been ill for a long time, I do feel some peace that she no longer suffers. Some days are easier than others at such a time. I have found that my work helps me in many ways. The hugs I have received and words of kindness and offers of help.   Singing  old songs with others has always been a form of comfort. At times though,  I feel as though I am living the lyrics of that song, "Smile" by Charlie Chaplin:

"Smile though your heart is aching
Smile even though its breaking"

Yesterday I played at the Missionary home I've been singing at for a few years. I've gotten to know some of the residents there and was surprised to see Ms. Florence (not her real name) sitting in the front row waiting for me to sing.  I hadn't seen her in a long time. She was wearing a dozen or more colored beaded homemade bracelets on each wrist. I was complimenting her on her beautiful bracelets and said, "My Mother had bracelets like that. " Just as I said the word, "had"  a lump formed in my throat and I thought I would burst into tears. It was the first time I talked about my mother in the past tense to someone at my gigs. Ms. Florence smiled and said, "What is your mother's name? I want to meet her!"  I stood there fighting back the tears and I could not bring myself to tell her that my mother died only days ago. 

"....Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness
Although a tear may be ever so near..."

Saved by the bell (so to speak), it was time to sing and Ms. Florence and the others sang along with such happy gusto that I forgot my sorrow for a little while. 

"...That's the time you must keep on trying
Smile, what's the use of crying?
You'll find that life is still worthwhile
If you just smile..."

They laughed at my story I told when I was a child and my father yelled at me for singing in bed. "I told you to stop that singing and go to sleep!"  (laughter)  The song, "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" is what I could not stop singing and every time I sing that song, I remember that. Yesterday I was glad for the laughs I got because as I told the story, I heard my friend's question in my head, "So how does it feel to be an orphan?"

"Sometimes I feel like a motherless child" comes to mind. 

There is a song for every occasion. I was amazed I made it through yesterday's gig without crying and how healing it felt when Ms. Florence and the others seemed so uplifted by our time together. It helps me remember the good things in life. 

"Smile when your heart is breaking
When there are clouds in the sky, you'll get by"

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Perks of Being a Cochlear Implant Recipient

Those that know me know that I became a cochlear implant (CI) recipient in 2009.   It has really been an interesting journey these last 7 years! Something I have really enjoyed doing is participating in CI research. I have done so in Cochlear Implant Labs all over the country from Northwestern University in Chicago, Vanderbilt in Nashville, Arizona State, U of Maryland and JMU in Virginia.
It is gratifying to know that people like me can help ensure that technology for CI users continues to improve.

Last week I went back for the second time to UMD and participated in 2.5 days of testing. Probably the most fun part of the research was an experiment where they put these electrodes on my head (using a cloth cap with holes in it). Then they hooked my CI up directly to a sound that repeated over and over again over a period of a half hour or so to record how my brain responds to the different sounds. For example, one of the sounds is the word "ditch", while the other sound is, "dish." To someone with a hearing loss, these words sound pretty similar. So they test someone like me to find out why is it that some people are really improving from a CI and can understand speech clearly, while others do not seem to get the maximum benefits?

Other tests have to do with memory recall. There was one test where there was a series of numbers in a circle like a clock. After I heard a series of numbers, I was to click on the numbers on the computer in the order I heard them.  The hard part was when I was asked to do this exercise backwards! It was not so hard with 3 or 4 numbers but they had sometimes 8 or 9 numbers which was just about impossible!

They also made new "maps" which is what audiologists do for CI users by measuring the thresholds of the softest sound I can hear, to the loudest sound we can tolerate. This is done with different electrodes connected to the implant. After the maps were made, I was tested to listen to a series of sounds which each map. One test was to determine which sound out of three was different. It is like those optical illusion tests where you have to choose which picture is different of three. What happens with me over time in listening to these sounds is they start to blend together or my brain processes them in a delayed way. At one point I thought I heard a ringing sound in the room and I got up and asked what that was. The test team looked at me which a confused expression. "You need to take a break. " And so I went outside awhile.

What happens with the CI is that we use our brain to hear and so these kinds of tests give research teams data to see how the CI responds with different types of people. Depending on age, how long they've had their CI, how much they have worked at their auditory rehab, etc.

Contrary to what people may think, having a CI does not cure your hearing. You do not hear perfectly after it is activated. It's not like a hearing aid where it is turned on and that is it. The CI requires a lot of skill and listening exercises.  Sometime I will tell you more about the rehab it requires.

All in all though, it's an interesting life. Feel free to get in touch if you have questions about cochlear implants. I also give talks and presentations on CIs if you are interested. Thanks for coming by!